Jericho, Palestinian Territories (AFP):
Israeli forces on Monday killed five Palestinians in a raid near Jericho in the occupied West Bank, an Israeli official said.
Hamas confirmed its fighters were among the dead, saying in a statement the Gaza-based group was mourning members of its military wing killed “in an armed clash with the Zionist occupation”.
The early morning raid was the continuation of a series of attacks by Israeli forces and came after days of what Jericho authorities have described as a “siege” on the city.
The Israeli security official, requesting anonymity as they were not authorised to speak to the media, told AFP the army was holding the bodies of the Palestinian dead.
Both Israelis and Palestinians have used the remains of people killed in clashes or attacks as bargaining chips through the conflict.
The army said in a statement “a number” of armed men were killed in a gunfight during the raid on the Aqabat Jabr refugee camp at the entrance to the city, which lies close to the Jordanian border.
It reported no casualties among the Israeli forces.
“A number of armed assailants were killed after firing toward IDF (Israeli military) soldiers who were operating in the area,” the army said.
In an initial statement, the Palestinian health ministry reported “three citizens were shot by the Israeli occupation during the attack of Jericho,” one of them in critical condition.
Violence is rare in Jericho, a popular destination for tourists who are drawn to the ancient city’s religious and cultural sites.
Jericho governor Jihad Abu al-Assal said the situation amounted to a “siege” which was “incurring huge costs” to local businesses, agriculture and the tourism industry.
Assal called the latest raid “a heinous crime, on top of the crimes committed by the occupation every day against our Palestinian people”.
“We call on the world to stop this occupation, and to protect our people from the occupier,” he told AFP on Monday.
Israel has occupied the West Bank since the 1967 Six-Day War.
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh described the Jericho incursion as a “heinous massacre”.
“The heroes in Aqabat Jabr camp fought until they were martyred defending their land and their holy sites,” he said in a statement.
“The successive killings by the enemy in the West Bank will be disastrous for them.”
Israel said the Monday raid had targeted “the Hamas terrorist squad that carried out the shooting attack” on January 28, when according to the army two armed men approached an Israeli settlement restaurant near the Palestinian city.
One of the gunmen had opened fire at the restaurant but his weapon jammed after just one bullet that did not hurt anyone.
The suspects fled and the army has since reinforced its presence around Jericho and carried out extensive searches at checkpoints.
Since the start of the year and prior to the latest Jericho operation, Israeli forces had killed 36 Palestinian adults and children.
Six Israeli civilians, including a child, and one Ukrainian civilian were killed over the same period in a single attack in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem.
Last year was the deadliest in the West Bank since the United Nations started tracking casualties in the territory in 2005.
There were 235 fatalities in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in 2022, with nearly 90 percent of the deaths on the Palestinian side, according to AFP figures.